Pulse of the Voters: County voters weigh in on presidential picks

Jan. 15—As election season officially kicks off with the Iowa caucuses taking place today, Crawford County voters too are looking forward to Pennsylvania's primary election on April 23 and even further to the general election on Nov. 5.

Responses from typical older residents showed voters who are still divided but somewhat less enthusiastic in their support for the major parties' presumptive presidential nominees.

On the conservative side, retirees Tom McFate of Conneaut Lake and Pat McHenry of Vernon Township were both strong supporters of former President Donald Trump in the past two elections. Both men plan to vote for him again this year if he is the Republican nominee, but they're entertaining other possibilities.

McFate, 82, said his political outlook hasn't changed, "but I still wish he (Trump) wasn't running."

"I think they'll do the same thing to him they did last time," he added, describing the ongoing indictments against Trump as "ludicrous" and politically motivated.

For retired Pennsylvania State Police trooper and former Crawford County coroner McHenry, 80, Trump is problematic because of his carnivalesque approach and his tendency to "engage mouth before brain," but the economic and foreign policy results achieved in his first term were worth it. A rematch of 2020 would result in McHenry "absolutely" voting for Trump.

"That's a no brainer, you'd have to," he said. But at the same time, McHenry finds himself feeling a bit "more ambidextrous right now," politically speaking. Not that he would consider voting for a Democratic candidate, but he has been impressed by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and to a lesser extent Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

For McFate, an ideal ticket would be DeSantis and Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, but he acknowledges such an outcome is unlikely.

"Given what it looks like it's going to be, I'm behind Trump 100 percent," he said. "He still makes sense to me."

Where conservative voters like McFate and McHenry were anxious to avoid another four years of President Joe Biden, voters like Beth Ryan of Meadville and Mike Wilcox of Cochranton were just as eager to avoid another four years of Trump.

Describing herself as a political moderate, the 70-year-old Ryan, a marketing communications professional and lifelong Meadville resident, criticized the noisy extremes of both political parties: Republicans who resort to scare tactics by default in a race to vilify their opponents and Democrats who have moved toward socialism, painting nearly everyone as victims in the process and attacking people for their personal opinions to such an extent that it threatens free speech.

With Biden the more centrist of the two likely nominees, according to Ryan, a second choice between them would be easy.

"I think Donald Trump is a grifter who pulled off the con of a century," she said. "If it's Trump vs. Biden, I'll vote for Biden."

Wilcox retired from his agribusiness career in 2008. Now 78, he looks forward to campaigning for Biden.

"Biden, in spite of his age, has demonstrated his political experience to get things done," Wilcox said, pointing to extremely low unemployment, slowing inflation, increasing wages, and legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021.

Perhaps just as important for Wilcox as any accomplishments on Biden's part are his concerns about another Trump presidency.

"The most important issue in 2024 will be the preservation of our democracy," he said. "Trump's actions since 2021 clearly validated my concerns, especially since the Jan. 6 insurrection and his lies about the 2020 election being stolen."

McFate and McHenry shared similar concerns about Biden's leadership — or what they described as the 81-year-old president's inability to lead.

"I don't think the people working for Biden are answering to Biden," McHenry said, criticizing Biden's time spent away from the White House.

"I think it's Clinton and Obama that are running the country," McFate said. "Biden is just a figurehead. That's what they'll do again this time."

For the moderate Ryan, the most pressing problems concern the areas where government action is "critical for our daily lives." Her list of priorities for voters to consider was broad: climate change and conservation as well as the military and immigration; education, women's rights and child care; as well as foreign policy and agriculture.

Given her concerns and the state of recent American politics, she said she "would like to either see a third party, or have both parties get back to working together to compromise on solutions for all Americans.'

McFate's concerns were similar to those he expressed when he first spoke to The Meadville Tribune about Trump nearly five years ago: the border and ensuring Second Amendment rights. In addition, he ranked inflation as a newer worry.

McHenry ranked the influx of undocumented immigrants under Biden and the precarious economy as the top concerns voters should consider going into the election and was hopeful that Trump, if elected, would be able to rein in the "ABC" agencies that make up the federal bureaucracy.

Thinking back to his youth, when he was inspired by President John F. Kennedy to serve his country by joining the military, McHenry saw a very different political landscape before him today.

"I'm glad I'm 80 years old — they aren't going to be able to do this to me much longer," he joked. "We're in a terrible fix right now."

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at